I went to high school with Jordan McNair at McDonogh School. He wasn’t in my grade, but I had an elective course with him and was lucky enough to experience the joy he brought to others around him. His death on June 13th hit home for me.
Immediately, I found myself considering the likelihood that the heat-stroke he suffered and eventually passed from was caused by inhumane coaching or intensity that pushed him to the brink. As the ESPN reports indicate, my suspicions were correct; in fact, they underestimated the abilities of Coach DJ Durkin and his staff. Reading the claims made about the University of Maryland football program are sickening, and I am certain that the actions taken by coaches and trainers throughout the entire season were direct causes of McNair’s death. If fear is instilled in each player, why would they admit to being unable to complete a workout? If their manhood is in question each time they reach physical failure, why would they let themselves show it? The toxic environments college athletes find themselves in – particularly at UMD – are inappropriate and unsafe. McNair’s death is just one extreme example of this – a tragedy.
Countless reporters, fans, and families have given their own opinions on what Maryland could have done, and I have already touched on how disturbing the reports against Durkin’s regime are, so I will hold my breath on those subjects. Instead, I would like to give my thoughts on what the next step must be, both for Maryland and for college athletics on the whole.
First, at College Park, action against Durkin must be taken immediately. At the time I am writing this, the strength and conditioning coach, Rick Court, has stepped down. If DJ Durkin doesn’t make the honorable decision by doing the same, then he must be relieved of his duties by the board at UMD. Moving forward, the priority for each program must be player safety and growth as leaders. The university must be careful who they choose to fill the vacancy.
Next, when examining all of the college sports, McNair’s death must serve as a reason to put each program under a microscope. Tragedies such as this one must generate positive change, and the each school’s athletics department must be checked-on for similar wrongdoings and harmful environments. By taking men like Durkin and Court out of college sports, every student-athlete will be closer to true safety in their training and development.
Football is a tough sport – it takes a certain strength to make it through each grueling season. But that rough mentality should not make room for despicable behaviors, much less life-threatening ones. While Jordan McNair will be missed dearly by all those that knew him, his legacy must live on in the changes made to ensure player safety and the well-being of each and every member of an athletic program.